The Merriam Webster dictionary defines poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions”. It is not a condition to be desired. In fact, it involves suffering. But like any trial, poverty has advantages. A person should make every effort to learn from it and use the knowledge they’ve gained to get out of it.
Poverty and “The Girl of the Limberlost”
In the movie, “The Girl of the Limberlost”, Elnora Comstock is a high school student in the early 2oth century with what today we would not consider big dreams. All she wants to do is go to high school. But for her, a poor country girl with a domineering mother and a deceased father, the dream seems impossible. One can learn a lot about poverty when watching this film, especially about its nature and effects.
Poverty is crippling
At first, Elnora’s mother refuses to let her trek the three miles into town to school. She is needed on the farm. But eventually her mother relents and she goes to school.
However, Elnora is hindered left and right. First, the other students make fun of her for her hayseed clothes and funny hair cut. They even call her “Cornstalk” instead of Comstock.
Then she learns she needs five dollars for school books. Elnora doesn’t have that kind of money. She can’t catch a break from the store owner who sells them either. Without them, she can’t go to school.
When you’re poor, you feel as if you are in American society, but not of it. You watch as other people go to movies, enroll their kids in sports, eat out at restaurants, and take vacations. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating.
Poverty is motivating
Despite Elnora’s hardships, she has spunk. She works early in the morning and after school to do her chores on the farm.
She also becomes an entrepreneur. Elnora has a heart for nature, and she uses it to make money. She learns that Mrs. Porter, a local photographer, likes to take pictures of nature. So Elnora captures rare butterflies, learns how to mount them, and sells them for a profit to Mrs. Porter. In doing so she enables herself to buy school books, and eventually saves her mother’s farm when taxes come due.
Poverty teaches compassion
The girl is poor, but that doesn’t mean she can’t share. Elnora meets Billy one day in a trek to school. A German Shepherd has him up a tree. Elnora scares the dog off and gets him out of the tree.
Elnora is an observant young lady. She notices that Billy is dirty and his clothes are scruffy. It’s obvious that Billy is worse off than she is, and she feeds him her nice lunch of fried chicken and milk.
Later, when they learn Billy is homeless and fatherless, the family takes him in. Elnora begins to treat him like a little brother, letting him enter her world.
When life gives them lemons, a lot of people learn to make lemonade. They develop a keen knack for observing the world around them, including the plight of others in the same or worse condition as they.
Poverty is unifying
When Elnora learns that her mother is about to lose the farm, She and Billy unite behind her to get in the crop. Elnora’s mother isn’t the easiest person to deal with, but the family has her back.
Elnora has given up school to help save the farm. Her best friend visits her one day and convinces her to get back to the business of selling rare butterflies. Elnora discovers a very rare speciment and sells it to Mrs. Porter.
Had it not been for the care and advice of her friend, Elnora and her family would have lost everything. A storm wipes out the remaining crop, preventing the family from meeting their tax obligations. But the profit from the sell of the rare butterfly saves the day.
Poverty is debilitating and hard. But it is even worse it separates spouses, parents and children, and friends. It doesn’t have to be that way. It can serve to actually glue relationships together.
Poverty and my father
His poor school days
I recall driving my father across country a couple of years before he passed away. We sat at a diner in Nebraska late one night, surrounded by cornfields, talking about his childhood. Dad told me of his days in school. His family was so poor living in the West Virginia hills that they couln’t afford school supplies, He didn’t have paper to take notes from the teacher. This even got Dad into trouble with the teacher. But Dad didn’t give up. Since he couldn’t take notes, he memorized everything instead. He passed.
His later days
This perseverance served Dad well later when he lost his leg in a train accident. He didn’t quit then, either. He went to college, got a desk job and eventually became a successful accountant. He became so adept at walking around on his artificial leg that many people didn’t know he was an amputee.
Poverty, God and Benjamin Franklin
Escape is possible
Poverty may create great obstacles, but it also provides opportunity. This doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. It’s a horrible state to be in. But those who find themselves in its claws don’t have to stay there.
What it takes to escape
It will take initiative on the part of the poor and the help of others to escape poverty. Benjamin Franklin was wrong when he said that God helps those who help themselves. The problem with this famous statement is that it seems to emphasize self reliance over trust in God.
The truth is that God helps people in spite of themselves. But there is a grain of truth in Ben’s famous statement. A person has to at least want help and minimally make an effort to seek it out. This puts the person in a place where God and others can help them.
The End of Poverty
No one should ever seek to be poor. It does build character. However, the only reason poverty does this is because a person may hate it so much that they are energized to get away from its prison. This is difficult because one of the aspects of poverty is its debilitating nature. A person trapped in its web may indeed be exhausted from the ordeal. In this instance, they need help.